A Note From Frank deGruy
A Parting Thought for my Beloved DepartmentRobert | Family Medicine Jun 23, 2021
Those of you who attended the last department meeting might remember that I listed a long series of accomplishments we achieved together in the past two decades—accomplishments you achieved—that I cited as evidence of the greatness of this department, and as the reason it is so rewarding and so much fun to work here. I then listed eight features of your character that help explain why we have prospered, why this is one of the best departments that has ever been.
The purpose of this message is to describe these characteristics more fully, to distill their essence, so that you might be fortified in these stressful times as you embed these traits ever more deeply into your daily life. If you abide by these habits of character, you will grow in stature and wisdom, and our department will remain most excellent.
Before I list these preconditions for greatness, I should remind us that we are members of a service profession; we are called to serve others; we are here to help others become healthier. This is our polestar, and when our work is to that end, these traits will augment the quality and value of that work.
1. Leadership. It is within you to be a great leader. No matter where you exist in the hierarchy, no matter whether you are formally designated as a leader, no matter whether you are eloquent and visionary or quiet and practical, you have it within you to rise up, join with others, and do things that only you can do that should be done. Great leaders bring out the best in those they lead; they foster effective teamwork; they set the course and inspire people to overcome difficulties to accomplish our goals. We have here a rich range of leadership styles, and a host of effective leaders. Our leaders are local, institutional, national, and international. Leadership has always been a key facet of our programs of professional development. I rest in the confidence that we will continue to cultivate high-quality leaders and leadership programs as a core feature of this department. I hope and expect that you will continue to lead with clarity, courage, grace, and humility.
2. Talent. Look around at the talent here! As with leadership, you all have talent. It is incumbent upon you to find your talents, to practice them, and to exercise them in the service our patients, our programs, and your partners. Some of you are great clinicians. Some of you are talented researchers. Some of you are talented educators. Some have a talent for seeing into the future, and others have an aptitude for solving the most difficult problems. It takes talent to accomplish great things, and I notice that we are skillful here at identifying and cultivating our own and each other’s talents. I believe that because we put such a premium on high talent, this department is a talent magnet—we not only develop talent but attract talented people. Talent begets talent. There is a high, high concentration of talent here.
3. Imagination. Vision. A sense of the possible. It takes imagination to innovate, and this department enjoys a reputation for innovation. This is a lifesaving trait that keeps us on edge, continuously improving, continuously moving forward. Seeing unexpected possibilities. Finding creative solutions to difficult problems. Getting better by the year. Vision is a trait that can be cultivated, baked into the culture of a department. You can become more visionary, more imaginative, with practice. I have seen it happen here. I expect that visionaries will continue to be attracted to us.
4. Courage. Courage is not acting without fear; it is acting in the face of fear. This trait goes hand in hand with imagination as a driver of innovation. It takes courage to try something new, when we might fail or get hurt. It takes courage to give up the familiar for something that might be better—but that might not. It is thrilling to see how many of our young faculty and staff are so brave, so willing to push right into the teeth of danger for the possibility of a greater future for us and our patients. Courage begets courage, and courage is an essential ingredient of success. Act in the face of fear.
5. Flexibility. It is good to see the polestar, good to have a plan for getting there, and good to act on that plan. But there is always something coming out of left field that will knock us off course. We live and work in a complex environment, and much of the way forward is unpredictable, unknowable. The best-laid plans can be swept away in a breath through no fault of our own. We are continually having to adjust to little hits and bumps that deflect us from our true path forward. But there is an enormous blessing hidden in these vicissitudes--some of our most valuable and productive programs bear almost no resemblance to their original formulation because of the detours and workarounds that had to be invented to deal with unexpected problems and complications. New solutions have taken shape in the crucible of continuous adjustment to the pressures of the real world outside our line of sight, and to the unexpected effects of even those things we may have planned carefully. We can reach our goal, we can hit our target, only by becoming and remaining flexible, and I see evidence of that everywhere.
6. Humility—teachability. One of the most endearing features of this department is the humility of its members. Teachability—coachability—a learner’s heart—should not be confused with poor self-esteem. Even the best of the best have coaches and mentors. Humility can be contrasted, however, with arrogance. A person who already knows cannot learn, and our complex systems requires that we learn so that we can adapt accordingly. I love the spirit of curiosity, of eagerness to learn, of the desire to discover how to get better that is so prevalent here. Teachability is essential to excellence.
7. Hard Work. When the work has heart, when it’s for something greater than yourself, the most strenuous efforts become, in a sense, effortless. But we need to keep the strenuous effort part of that last sentence in italics, because there is no easy way to greatness. The best among us—the most talented, the most courageous, the most flexible, the most imaginative, the most teachable—work hard. And make no mistake: the best are among us, for you to witness and take inspiration from. They persist. They stay in the game. For the best among us, work resembles love, and can renew us. Of course we should not deplete ourselves, of course we must devote ourselves to our families and loved ones, yet there is simple, pure hard work, and it ennobles our character and brings our dreams into existence. Hard work is the fuel for our engines, it is the fire for our crucible, it is the muscle that wrestles high-minded ideas to earth, that clears the path, that builds the city on the hill. We do that here, and it is a fount of inspiration.
8. Partnerships. Teamwork. Trust. Finally, we do all this together. If I were to select one trait that most strongly accounts for this department’s greatness, it would be our tendency and capacity to work together. We are a collaborative lot. We partner with one another, and because of this, we punch above our weight. What I’m talking about here takes more skill and subtlety than just getting help with a task. Linking arms and borrowing strength from each other is wonderful, but great partnerships, effective teamwork, begins with learning each other; it requires knowing and being known to one another, strengths and weaknesses alike; then offering and earning trust, then seeking complementarity—fitting together into a coherent, synergistic working unit in which the sum of the parts produces something new and potent under the sun. There are rough patches in even the best partnerships, and yet what I observe here is that, when we are at our best, our commitment to working collaboratively overrides the inevitable conflicts and disagreements and differences of opinion. Our commitment to teamwork is one of our singular graces.
So there you have it. These are the traits that I see in you. They add up to a culture of constructive community, of family. They explain your extraordinary and unlikely accomplishments. They bode well for the people we serve, for all those who will join us, and for your own futures.
I have been privileged to serve with you, and you are privileged to work with such shining examples of humanity. Godspeed.